Sunday, January 24, 2010

Some Thoughts on Education

Those who can do, those who can’t teach, and those who can’t teach - teach teachers.

Last Tuesday, January 19th 2010, I attended a training day for high school teachers in Davis County.

In the PowerPoint slide show and movie-clip-fest, billed as a rip-off of late night T V, these claims flashed up onto the screen:

There are 1.3 billion Chinese,

There are .3 billion Americans,

Therefore: there are more honor students in China than there are students in America.

Now how did they make that leap of logic? What data was presented to give any justification in making such a claim? How does one know there are any honor students in China? We surely can’t trust the Chinese on that one, nor do I think we can trust those who make such unreasoned and illogical claims. This bit of tomfoolery illustrates the flaw in putting one’s faith in anything that appears scientific, but which, in truth, is based on irrelevant or intentionally deceptive statistics

This pseudo- scientific approach continued to concern me as I listened to the lecture presented as the Keynote Address by Ako Kambon. Kambon was a great speaker, who delivered an interesting and truly thought provoking sixty minutes talk; what he said so well did indeed get me thinking.

Kambon’s premise was that we (teachers) are dealing with a different student today than what students once were. Referencing a Michigan University study he claimed that the five top influences on students had shifted and changed since the 1950’s. He gave no explanation of the M. U. study or how or on what basis it came to its conclusions. I have found that, in academia, when researchers begin with an assumption, they are usually able to find evidence to support their beliefs. Here are the claims Kambon expected us to accept on faith, faith in M. U.

In the 1950’s, the top five major influences on students were, in descending order of import:






by the 1980’s the order had become:






But then, in the 1990’s, Kambon claimed, there was a major shift. The order of influence became:





with church dropping off the chart, down to number 10.

By the 2000’s, according to M. U., there was nothing left in the top five but media:

Media (influential in this order):

Videos (TV and Games)




Network TV

First, I challenge these claims. I make no claim to any proper scientific study, but then I don’t believe M. U.’s figures were properly gathered either. Let’s use a little reason, which is what scientists are supposed to do. Consider that school and church are examples of peers, and the family is also a place to interact with peers and much more. M. U.’s divisions of society and influence groups are arbitrary at best, and separating the influence of one group from the other impossible.

Second, Time spent using media does not necessarily equate to influence. How does one compare hours staring at a T V, surfing the net, or downloading music, to a few minutes of interaction with someone who loves you, or a week hiking in the mountains with your “church” leaders and friends.

The study seems to assume that students are mindless automatons, into which morals, attitudes, ambitions, and beliefs can be injected by flashy pictures and rap music. Kids are thinking human beings who can reason for themselves, who recognize right and wrong, and for that matter, can discern quality of information, no matter what the quantity.

One is forced to wonder what group of “students” was used to come to the assumptions M. U. grabbed, and how they determined how much influence a given source had on that group.

I provide an anecdotal challenge: When I related the M. U. claims to my seventeen year old, he scoffed at them. His family life is not typical, but he immediately asserted that family was most important to him. He spends a great deal of time listening to his I-Pod, mostly while snowboarding or climbing, (challenging physical activates requiring much time and effort, any such activates were not even mentioned by Kambon’s reference to the M. U. study) but my student does not seem to be unduly influenced by this media. My boy also does his home work and learns well in his classes. He is planning for his future and looking forward to building a life based on meaningful employment and interests that have very little to do with the media.

Also from my experience: I spend all summer ( nine plus weeks each year) surrounded by students who have pretty much forsaken the media to immerse themselves in service to others, building values, forming friendships, and experiencing nature, (again a powerful influence not even mentioned by Kambon).

By this time in Kambon’s lecture, I was already skeptical. However, his descriptions of corporal punishments administered by his parents had kept my attention. He then made his big shift, his call for action.

His turned his lecture to “Things to Know about Media Impact on the Classroom”. Five things that the influence of the Media had wrought on school.

His foundational assertion was that students could not learn by lecture, the foremost method of presenting information in high school. It didn’t seem to faze Kambon that his condemnation of lecturing was being delivered as a lecture. I find this too often to be the case with those who teach teachers. It is, “do as I say, not as I do.”

He led off with some declarations: (There was a PowerPoint, I think.)

1. Students have a shortened attention span.

2. Students are accustomed to being entertained.

3. Students have remote controls in their heads.

4. Students are accustomed to receiving information faster than we are accustomed to give it.

5. Students are now visual learners.

To his assertions I answer:

1. [Short attention spans] Teach students to and give them opportunity to practice developing longer attentions spans. Don’t take them as they are and adjust down to that stage of ability; drag them up to a better and more rewarding level of learning capacity.

2. [Entertaining] Accustom students to accomplishment, to the satisfaction that comes from doing the difficult and growing. Don’t teach down to them, lift them up. Success is better than fun.

3. [Remote control on the brain] Fine, teach students to keep control. Just because they can turn learning on and off at will does not mean they will. Force them to pay attention and keep their “finger” off the switch.

4. [Faster than I can deliver] First, I don’t really know what this means, secondly if it means what I think it does, that students can learn faster than I can teach; I don’t believe it. Nothing in my experience has led me to believe that pacing should be dictated by what students think they want, nor that repetition, drill, and practice are anything by beneficial to students. Ask any of them who are on a successful athletic team, play an instrument, draw, or snowboard.

5. [Visual learners only] Then cure them of this. How sad it will be if students, conditioned by computer, T.V., and movie screens, cannot learn to read a book or listen to a lecture. Why do we allow them to limit their lives based on the power of a bunch of profit driven multinational companies. Free them to learn on their own in any way made available to them.

Some years ago I saw a cartoon movie about a little robot left stranded on earth after all human life had escaped environmental disaster in a space ship. The film, titled Wally, presents a space ship computer that takes over the lives of the humans it was meant to protect by reducing them to fat, lazy, slugs that can do nothing but float from one meal to the next. Mr. Kambon seemed to want the same for our students.

Kambon rushed to his conclusion: Five to-do’s to save our teaching.

1. Give mental breaks.

2. Don’t be boring

3. Realize that our students are either channel surfing of turned off.

4. Use today’s technology to communicate to students.

5. He never got to five – “the bell rang”.

In retrospect, I critique Mr. Kambon’s action steps as follows.

1. [Mental breaks] Rather than giving mental breaks, a good teacher should increase the mental strength of his students so they don’t break down so often.

2. [Boring] Learning to play the violin is boring, learning to draw, or speak Chinese, or do a back flip on the snowboard may well be boring, but the thrill of real accomplishment that comes from doing hard things after tedious, repetitious, yes – even boring work until one is the master, is truly exhilarating. This is a joy that can never be obtained by those who will not pay the price of tedious effort. Let’s help our students overcome boredom by showing them what is beyond, by giving them the pleasure of learning.

3. [Turned off or channel surfing] Accept this fact, but don’t go off the air. Demand they work or fail. Require them to prove they are tuned in, and let them taste the reward of paying attention. Students must learn that they are the ones responsible for learning. The way to success is to help the student to make the right choice of channels based on long term goals not momentary stimulation.

4. [Today’s technology] Sure, use it, but remember this, students love to be read to, and once given the skill, to read. Students love to be told stories, and students love to write and create on their own as well. Just because teachers have new tools in their kits does not mean we should abandon the tried-and-true. Help students to learn that there is no movie, no video game, no cell-phone app, which can surpass their own mind and imagination.

5. [Nothing] This seems to me to be a fitting summary of all the rest of the lecture.

I left the room conflicted, perhaps concerned; I was an unabashed, and therefore perhaps an “evil” lecturer. I wondered if I were a dangerous dinosaur; dooming my students to failure in their contest against the Chinese.

I headed down the long hall to the library to attend my first “break out” session. It was a student panel discussion on Post Secondary Preparation conducted by Teena Carper, one of our school councilors. Ten to twelve students participated; addressing a room full of teachers, and one administrator. Half of these kids were current high school students taking advance placement or college equivalency courses, the other half were recent high school graduates attending local colleges or universities. They spoke to what teachers and high schools needed to do to prepare students.

Teachers must teach skills – especially better note taking and writing skills.

Teachers must have enthusiasm – “Don’t hate what you do”.

Teachers must come to class prepared to teach.

Teachers must be approachable.

Teachers should not give free time – that’s wasting time.

Teachers must provide classes that prepare students for college. Teach students in a college style class which will prepare students for college. Lecture is what “they” do in college, so teach students how to deal with lectures and give them experience with them.

Teachers must require students to write papers.

Teachers must push all students into more challenging classes. By challenging classes these students meant college prep classes, classes where they were expected to work hard and deal with boring and tedious work in order to learn things that will help them succeed in their future lives.

Teachers must not teach “test specific”, rather, teach students how to learn for themselves.

Teachers must take their job seriously so students can.

Teachers must encourage students to know more about what is going on in the world.

Teachers must tell students why they are learning.

Students should be excited to attend because the class is a place for learning, not a push over.

I left the student panel validated; determined to continue to do my best to be a teacher, not an entertainer or media conduit. I wonder how much money Ako Kambon charged the district to deliver his lecture. More than these students or Ms. Carper did I’m sure. I felt they earned more than he. They surely earned my respect. Kambon was entertaining; especially the line about giving kids “time-out” by knocking them out. But then, I probably won’t try that suggestion of his either.

I attended two more sessions, one on drugs in our schools, one on the state retirement program. It is always comforting to contemplate the number of years my students will be supporting me in my next adventure.

All-in-all, it was a very profitable morning. I am glad that I had teachers who taught me to question every lecture. I appreciate Davis School District for going to the trouble to provide quality presenters, and a wealth of information. I have continued to think about the materials given and grown from the mental effort they inspired. I am grateful to Ako Kambon for stimulating my determination to be a better teacher by doubting the things he presented in his truly challenging lecture.


Dan said...

My opinion.

Never stop lecturing.

Never stop reading to your students (that isn't only enjoyed until one learns how to read, it is a powerful mental experience to be read to).

Never stop teaching them how to write, I met people in Law School that had never been taught how to write a proper essay, I can't tell you how many of my college classes were absolute cake walks because I knew how to write a real paper, thanks for that.

Never stop requiring your students to participate in the lecture and the discussion, and the debate, and the learning.

Buzz Carter said...

Hey. For what it's worth, here's what I remember:

Upon my word, Socrates, I do not know.

It is upon our own realization of our own ignorance that we become open to the teachings of our mentors.

Lysis said...


Thank you for your thoughts. At times one is forced to wonder if there are any victories in “the battle”, and then comes a chance to step back and see the power that effort can give to learning. I am, as always, proud of your achievements, and pleased to have been of some help along the way.

I spend everyday in lively discussion, challenging debate, and learning. I am blessed to learn from my students.

Buzz Carter,

Thank you for reading, posting, and for all you have done to preserve our freedom to debate, discuss, and learn.

I agree, once we recognize that we know nothing, we are driving to fill the void, we seek those who can show the way, and that way will never be easy.

Anonymous said...


I wouldn't classify you as an "evil lecturer" rather a benevolent one. I have been to many lectures that required only my listening ear and I enjoyed them because of the skill of the lecturer and the power of the subject. I also think that I am a good listener who will take what he wants from a lecture and apply it as needed.

As Mr. Kambon was finishing his keynote I was concerned that there were teachers in the audience that would leave thinking he was advocating showing movies or other media to keep our attention deficit students engaged - because it was obvious to me he was not advocating that. I stayed for his follow up break out session and he spoke mostly about skills. His purpose was to get teachers to be aware that today's students are substantially different than those from the past. This means a teacher must be willing to update their teaching style. He did not advocate, however, that teachers change the content - students still need the same skills and exposure to great thinking and great deeds that they always have. I am a "give me a liberal education or give me death" type of person. I strongly believe that the best job and college preparation includes Robert Frost, William James, Monet, Ben Franklin, etc.. Students deserve the best content delivered in the best possible way.

Now my question for you - what is the best possible way to teach? I feel a dedicated teacher would be hungry for any information about how to teach better.

Here is my partial rebuttal to your rebuttal to Kambon:

You willfully misunderstood his intent. You also did they same thing he did - you began with an assumption and put together an argument to fit it.
What made his keynote interesting and thought-provoking? His content was powerful and his delivery was effective. In fact he modeled what he wanted us to do: he gave us plenty of information to think about, he used visuals, he provided breaks through the use of humor, he asked critical thinking questions and waited and responded to answers. He did not "just" lecture.
I agree with you that there needs to be a clearer definition of "influence." How does an hour of gaming influence a student compared with an hour at church? What proof were the Michigan people looking for? It would be good to see that study.
I disagree that students can discern the quality of information. Grownups can't. If information is combined with emotion and pictures anybody might believe it. I would say we all can discern powerful information - whether it is correct or true or of quality takes a little more than discernment.
Delose, he kept your attention because of the topic and because he gave you breaks through humor - you admitted it: "his descriptions of corporal punishment administered by his parents had kept my attention." In the breakout he said humor is a great way to give your class a break.
He would agree with your rebuttal to the short attention span and how kids are used to being entertained.
We all have a remote control - we turn off all the time for various reasons. How do we "force" students to keep their finger off the off switch?
The receiving information faster than we can deliver point was directed towards teachers who don't really provide 90 minutes of compelling material - and there are plenty of them (you are not one). The fact that students nowadays are used to receiving lots of info is mostly a caution: receiving information is different than learning and using.
Receiving is passive, learning and applying requires effort. It takes no real effort or discipline to listen to an i-pod or play a game or surf the internet.
How do we free them to learn on their own?
Mr. Kambon doesn't want Wall-e to be our future. I would imagine he would teach much the same as you.

Iasthai said...

First of, this logic presented at the beginning of the post resembles several classic Fallacies.

As a current student I would like to thank you for defending, in this post, our, the students, capacity to reason, and our abilities to learn as students and apply ourselves as humans.

What I am even more grateful for however, is not what you say here, but your actions in the classroom, and your example to me as a person.

Your long and difficult lectures never failed nor continue to fail to inspire me, to aspire to a higher level of thinking. I have never learned so much in a class before, and I’m not just talking about the history of the Greeks, or Romans. You taught me life lessons, rules of nature, questions of life and a realization for my innate love of truth, that I now seek to find daily. And you did it all under the knowledge that you should push us, as students to a higher standard, and build us up to a greater level of thinking and learning. Far too often I am told as a newspaper reporter that I need to “Dumb down” my articles. I tell the editors NO! I will not write like an idiot to appease the masses, to make it easier for the illiterate to be idiots.

I appreciate the respect you give us all, and the trust and faith you have in our abilities. I can’t express my thanks to you enough. Layton is blessed to have a teacher like you; I am blessed, as are many others, to have had a mentor like you. Thanks for everything you do

Lysis said...


Thank you for classifying me as a lecturer, but not an evil one. My problem with Mr. Kambon is that he did not present any benevolent aspect of lecture; he condemned it outright, with no option left open. A skillfully delivered lecture, like Mr. Kambon’s are valuable, he set the example, but decried the practice. This presented a difficult contradiction.

Like you, I wasn’t sure what Mr. Kambon was advocating, if not a surrender to the “Media”, what? If he was not advocating showing movies or other media what was he advocating? Most of the teachers who he addressed did not stay to his “break out session”, so you will have to help us. What updates in teaching style did he advocate? Did he tell you the best possible way to teach? He didn’t give that valuable information during his lecture. What style, what skills did he advocate? I continue to disagree with Mr. Kambon’s claim that students are different today. I maintain that they are the same human beings they were when I started teaching, the same sort of souls that Socrates taught. Therefore: my question to you – if the content has not changed, and the students have not, why must delivery? If the students have changed, you and I are pushed to ask the same question: what is the best possible way to teach these new type students? Mr. Kambon did not tell those listening to his Key Note Address how to teach them, did he tell you?

I have an answer to the question: what is the best possible way to teach? I will give it to you after I rebut your “rebuttals”.

You say I “willfully misunderstood his intent”. What was his intent? He gave some unsupported statistics about what influences students, made an unsubstantiated claim that they can’t be lectured to, and didn’t tell us how we should do anything. You say I “put together an assumption and then put together an argument to fit it. Yes I do. Am I wrong to do so – my point is proven, so was his. Two wrongs still don’t make it right. Drop my assumptions, just answer my questions. How does one determine what influences students? What makes them so they can’t listen to lectures – but must rather be coddled and entertained? Why can’t we help them develop the attention spans and skills that will make it possible for them to learn from any teaching style? Don’t rebut my claims by accusing me of making the same mistake as Mr. Kambon; rebut them by giving me Mr. Kambon’s solution to the problems he assumes.

You say Mr. Kambon did not “just” lecture. What did he do? It seems like we have a problem with semantics. He talked to us for an hour, he took a few questions, (answering some of them) he fished for responses, and he put a note-taking outline up on a power point. How does this differ from “just lecture”? Will one be exempt for the anti lecture prohibitions of the “new teaching” regime if they use humor in their lectures? Can TV shows that provide laughs forgo the commercials?

We agree on the need to explain the Michigan University study. I feel free to discount it until I have been given a chance to understand it.
You disagree with me that students can discern the quality of information. Why do you feel that? I think students know when a teacher shovels trash; they don’t just swallow anything. I am quite sure students recognize an unprepared teacher and empty information, and if they don’t understand the value of what is being taught automatically, teachers can explain and help students to grasp the value. If they can’t discern, they should be trained to do so by making them work hard and learn by experience and effort the value of knowledge. Anyone who can reason can recognize truth and quality if given the chance. Just pumping more information, faster and faster, to match the delivery of the T.V. or the internet is not the answer. Fill their days with knowledge that will make them better.

Lysis said...

Mark, your right, he did keep my attention – he was a good lecturer. In his lecture he should have said in words what he demonstrated by his actions, that lecture is a good way to teach if it is done well. Instead, he scoffed at lecture and told us that “new” students needed “something new” to enable their learning. He did not tell us what that something is.

I am glad that you know that he would agree with me on lengthening student attention span by training and practice, but he didn’t tell the folks in the auditorium this. He just said that students are different than they were in the fifties because they have short attention spans. I was a student in the fifties – I had a short attention span, but I was forced to pay attention.

You ask, how do we force students to keep their finger off the off switch? Here are some suggestions: force them to sit up and pay attention, give them U’s in Citizenship if they won’t participate in class – they may well prefer paying attention to hours of community service and a $5.00 fine. Train them how to, and require that they do, take notes. Help them organize their information and keep it filed in a notebook. Give them tests and quizzes on the information presented and flunk them if they don’t do the work. If they flunk, they don’t graduate until they do many hours of even more boring and tedious seat-time in front of a computer; retaking the material they could have learned the first time if they had kept the switch on. The word gets around: it’s better to do the work in class than to have to make it up. Talk to them, ask questions and push them to respond, get them in arguments, debates, force them to take a stand and defend their beliefs. Show them the value of the things being taught; tie those lessons into their lives. Become their friend, let them see that you care about them and are trying to do what is in their best interest. Reward them when they pay attention, give them good grades for working hard, and praise for getting good grades, grades that stand for learning they can be proud of. In short – do some teaching.

I agree with you that passive listening is of no more value than listening to an I-Pod but the information delivered can be a heck of a lot more valuable. Using the suggestions above it should be possible to push them past passive to actually, occasionally taking an active role in their own development.

You ask how we can free them to learn on their own. We free them to learn on their own by teaching them to think, we teach them to think by forcing them to use their minds for the difficult tasks they are capable of. We must give them material they have to master and then demand they master it to reap the joy of success.

I don’t believe Mr. Kambon wants any of us to become like the floating slugs in Wall-e. I do believe he would teach as much as I would, so he should be careful in condemning what we both do, which is lecture, in response to a University of Michigan study that provides all kinds of questions but seems devoid of any applicable answers.

Lysis said...

Now to your question: What is the best possible way to teach?

I refer you to Plato’s dialogue called Meno. Buzz Carter references it above. Socrates is asked if one can teach virtue. To this he replies that he doesn’t think there is any such thing as teaching – that what we call teaching and learning is all remembering. That since the soul is immortal and often born – knowing everything, it is the job of the “teacher” to guide the “student” in recognizing the truths he already knows. In order to do this the teacher must first lead the student to the realization that he doesn’t know what he thinks he does know, prompt him to seeing the need of learning it, in a way stinging him. This shock will inspire him to desire to know that which he does not. Then it is will only be necessary to ask the right questions which will allow the student to discover for himself everything as he ought to. Come by my classroom on any day, and I will be glad to demonstrate the process with any one of my students.

Lysis said...


Thank you for posting. I am the one who is grateful to you and all my students. I enjoy each day in the classroom. I am taught by my students everyday.

I am proud of your integrity and the value you place on truth. I am tutored by your example. It will be fun to see you grow past me into the future you are working to build.

Dan said...

A few further thoughts, for what they are worth.

I am often turned off when people begin describing what 'students today', or more generally, what 'kids today' are like. I remember thinking, when I was such a student/kid, 'how can adults be so removed from reality, and how dare they decide what I am, just because I am younger than they.'

Are there differences between kids today, my group in school, kids in the 50's? Surely, but I believe we make those differences bigger when we go into some psuedo intellectual hunt for what students are 'like' now.

I will point to an example or two. If we all really changed that much over the decades, or centuries, why would reading remain one of the most fundamental and foundational principles of learning, and I don't mean just the ability to see and understand letters on a page, but the act of reading being one of the most important building blocks to logical thought, imagination, confidence, and ability to process all incoming information.

Is King Lear any less relevant to kids today because it comes in a 'boring' paperback that you have to sit and read, invest the time and effort to understand the different style of language, and really try to get all the themes and underlying principles? What about To Kill a Mockingbird? or Antigone?

I will freely admit that I did not always appreciate the classics that were 'forced' on me by a High School history teacher, he likes the Greeks and Romans a whole lot more than I did (and do). But the value that reading or listening to those stories gave to my education is apparent. They didn't need to be converted into a rap, and heaven help us please not into a movie starring the latest 'it' people and modern language.

I firmly believe, that using technology, for technology's sake is a disservice to education. Yes, there are areas where new 'methods' of teaching may well offer great benefits. Mostly in the sciences, to my way of thinking.

One last thought. Please, please, please, if you care for your students, if you have any thought to their sanity, or to their future as thinkers, please do not ever use powerpoint. I couldn't hate that application more. If I could remove it and any traces of it from the workplace, I would be content. It is the worst of all offenders in the dumbing down material transfer under the guise of trying new things. I hate powerpoint.

Taylor and Jodi said...

good discussion. I loved being read to, and still do. I remember sitting among good friends by candlelight after long hours working listening to the master story teller tell us of the man who planted trees, the nightingale and the rose or the selfish giant.

there's no doubt that technology can assist learning in the classroom. But I have to laugh when the projector doesn't work and my professors can't even attempt to draw a complex crystal structure by hand. I second Dan's plea to destroy powerpoint. I showed up for my first day of class for the new semester yesterday and the professor was out of town but had left a video tape of himself doing a powerpoint. 1.5 hours of my life I can never have back.

Reach Upward said...

"Success is better than fun."

Actually, success and fun do not have to be mutually exclusive. Very often, the sense of accomplishment that comes from doing something cumbersome but valuable IS fun. One of the places I learned this during my youth was when I worked at Camp Loll.

Tiffany said...

I think you are right in your assertions. I do have to say, however, as a mother of a son with a learning disability, I am grateful for teachers willing to explore new ways to help him learn and learn how to learn. I am grateful that nobody is trying to cure him of the fact that he is strongly visual but instead are using that strength to help him develop other strengths. I am also grateful for the IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Even though it involves a lot of pain and hard work, it makes a difference.

Lysis said...

I appreciate all the comments. I hope that I am not so determined to prove my position that I am not open to reasonable points from any view. I just found Mr. Kambon’s position unsupported; his call to action empty.

Dan and Taylor,

I was pleased to read your comments on power-points. My wife agrees with you. She pointed out that the power-point presentation is often accompanied by a printed copy of the all the slides. Of course, on the print out one does not get to see the words vibrate off the screen or swirl into existence from a black spot.

I do use power-points in my lectures. I show slides of pictures, for the benefit of all my learners, but I chose to supply the words with my mouth.


It is nice to hear from you. I agree with you. Some of the best “fun” I have ever had has been the gift of hard work at camp; surrounded by my friends, and in the services of others. Wouldn’t it be sad if some university study found that modern “students” could no longer be inspired by such old-fashioned and cumbersome methods?


I no doubt have some learning challenges of my own – such things were unrecognized half a century ago. I believe I would have benefited much from many of the programs available to students today. I also benefited from some very good lecturers, including my favorite, George Ellsworth. He is still with me every time I stand in front of my class. That said, I did benefit from the greatest advantage your boy also has, a mother who insisted that I go through the pain to find the fun, and made the journey with me.

Twon said...

I don't understand the quote at the top lysis if you could elaborate on the subject i would at most appreciate it.